Commission poised to add even more cabs

San Francisco’s streets could see an additional 69 taxicabs — for a total of 1,500 — as proponents of an increase say the boost will bring relief to those frustrated with how long it takes to catch a cab.

The Taxicab Commission meets Tuesday, when it will decide whether to add more taxis, reviving the hotly debated issue months after having voted in February to increase the number of cabs by 50. Previously, the number of cabs had been frozen at 1,381 for more than six years.

The approved 50 cabs, however, have yet to hit city streets, delayed by an appeal of the commission’s vote coupled with the lengthy process to issue permits. To date, three permits for more cabs have been issued, while 30 permits will be issued by the end of next month, according to the commission. The rest are expected to be issued in January.

A push to add more cabs followed the release of a recent commission report that revealed half of the people who call for a cab during the week are left stranded. On Friday evenings, those who call for a cab never see one 95 percent of the time.

Taxicab commissioner Malcolm Heinicke said he would like to see 69 more cabs despite the fact that the 50 have yet to hit the streets. Heinicke said he viewed February’s approval as “part of a gradual process” to increase the number of cabs, given the “availability crunch.”

Increasing cabs has been a contentious issue, with cab drivers disliking the idea for fear that more cabs on the streets will cut into profits.

“There are too many cabs for San Francisco residents alone. Not enough when conventions and tourists are in town, but they’re not all the time here and we need to survive all year,” said Thomas George-

Williams, chairman of the United Taxi Workers, a group representing a few hundred cabdrivers.

Heidi Machen, executive director of the Taxicab Commission, said, however, that she believes more cabs would make the taxicab industry more reliable, possibly creating a larger demand for people to use cabs more often.

Jim Gillespie, a Yellow Cab senior manager, said cab drivers are “doing quite well” and there is enough of a demand for more cabs.

If the commission does approve adding 69 more cabs, they won’t likely start cruising the streets for fares until eight months later, Machen said.

BY THE NUMBERS

821 medallions in 1997

1,381 medallions in 2000 

b medallions added between 2001and 2006

50 medallions approved for issuance in 2007

16 minutes, 20 seconds average time between dispatch and arrival of taxi

2 minutes, 58 seconds average time callers for a taxi were kept on hold

4 minutes, 39 seconds average time Friday callers were on hold

7 minutes, 49 seconds average time for successful flag-down

Source: Taxicab Commission

jsabatini@examiner.com  

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